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Art Appreciation with
Wes Bentley

The Arkansas actor—moved by Van Gogh—picks up the paint brush in (and after) The Time Being

When a mysterious patron hires struggling artist Daniel to take on a series of odd jobs, the painter goes along with it, curious to see where the strange requests will lead.

For Wes Bentley, hot off The Hunger Games, taking on the role of Daniel in The Time Being—opening in theaters July 26 and available On Demand beginning July 23—offered a similarly intriguing path. “I really liked the nature and the idea of the film,” the 34-year-old actor says. “You don’t see a whole lot of films about painters, especially painters who are struggling. That it’s about struggling artists in general is something I could identify with.”

Here, Bentley talks about art, acting and a second chance at success.

This is a moody movie about a struggling artist. What made it appealing?

I don’t know much about that world. I’m from Arkansas, so I wasn’t exposed to too many artists. I go to New York and spent a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum, and that’s where my love for certain artists and pieces came from. Also, [Daniel is] very similar to me. I also have a wife and a son.

Did you feel akin to him in other ways?

After getting sober and trying to build my career back up, it’s been a struggle because I want to only do the best projects, but you have to provide for yourself and you have to provide for your family. So, sometimes you don’t always do the things that you want to do. I had already worked through that and knew my priority was my family, so I was interested in playing Daniel who struggled even more with it, with being that perfect artist.

Daniel spends plenty of time in the film painting. Was that all you?

It was done in two ways by these two artists, who were both amazing. I’d start the painting—I’ve never been a painter, I’ve never been good at any visual art—by doing the background on one canvas. But the end product is four pieces already done by another artist, so I’m sort of trying to match. They’re showing me the colors they used to start the background and then later we replace that with the actual painting and I do a few final touches. But they show me the way to hold the brush, to do the strokes. And I sat down with both of them before shooting and learned about their process and the nature of picking the palette and then how they’re holding the brush and all of that. The actual painting, the real painting, is obviously done by professional, talented artists.

What kind of art do you like best?

I’ll tell you right off the top that I’m not the most informed about art or artists. I just know what has moved me. I can tell you about the first great experience I had with a painting. I had always known from flat print of copies of Van Gogh’s work that there was something about it that spoke to me, but I didn’t realize until I got to see one of his paintings in person—I saw the deep strokes in the paint and in the canvas, the pressure he used, the colors that he favored—that I saw fiery emotions. They matched my own: the anger, the fire, that lost feeling. I would try to walk around and look at other paintings, but at the time I just couldn’t do anything else, I had to keep going back to Van Gogh.

Wow. What else gets you in that way?

The other would be Dalí. I know that they’re very common and I’m not so cool. My choices aren’t artists that you don’t know, these are the masters and their classics, but that’s where I come from. And with Dalí, it’s the imagination, the magnets of the mind, the scope, and the sort of nightmarish/dream quality to his work. I felt like that’s also the way I visualize the world. And also in way Dalí was close to how I approached acting. I’m not that actor who loves to always think about the logical, real side of a character. I’m interested in the fantastical side, the unknown qualities of a human being. That’s Dalí to me. And so I’m inspired as an actor by his work. Van Gogh more speaks to me as a person. I also love Munch and some Picasso. Like I said, I’m very much into the masters, the classics.

Have you ever tried your hand at painting?

No, but I’m going to. I thought I was going to after [The Time Being], but I was working so much I didn’t have the time. I feel it in my future; I’m gonna try it. I can already tell you, though, it’s not going to be impressive at all. But for my own experience, I want to do it. You can express yourself with colors and that’s what I think I would love to do.

Speaking of working so much, you’ve got an awfully full plate with movies like Lovelace and Final Girl coming up.

Yes, and I’m so grateful. I did not stop working last year, which I’m so thankful for. I’m also grateful for having a bit of break right and being able to take the time off. But there’s a lot of buzz about the films coming out in the next few months, like a Norwegian film called Pioneer and a movie about Cesar Chavez, the Mexican-American immigration activist. I made the sacrifices and the quality keeps rising and opportunities keep getting better. I’m just putting in the hard work every day to have the opportunity to do better.